I wrote this, probably somewhere in the ballpark of the mid-to-late 90s for the Unbearables' compilation, THE WORST BOOK I EVER READ, and forgot about it sometime thereafter. The book, amazingly enough, popped up in 2009, long after I'd forgotten about it, but better late than never, and as I've said before, I always love being involved in anything the Unbearables do. The book is a fun and brain-crunching pile of deconstruction and my part of it is pretty much a puff piece by comparison. Check it out---it'll definitely give you a new way of looking at literature.
At the time I wrote this little pro-pulp/anti-Koontz jam I had read two or three of his books (I'm thinking one was called STRANGERS and one was called WHISPERS but I might be wrong on those titles)...'round about the early-to-mid 2000s (?) I went through this weird spate of listening to books on tape and among the books I “read” this way were the first two Odd Thomas novels. I decided that everything I disliked about Koontz as a writer back in the early days....I still disliked. So the Goof stands. Mr. Koontz probably wouldn't appreciate it, but what the hell? He can go cry on his bed of money. Wiseass attitude intact, here it is...
Not long ago, a friend and I were talking about books. He lamented the passing of the Era of the Hack.
Those were the good old, bad old days. They're gone----they were on their way out the door when I was a kid, in fact. You can still find their cobwebbed revenant in flea markets and used bookstores---even there, you'll see them slowly usurped by a fancier, slicker, more surefooted brand of garbage.
The best authors of my generation, and I can think of at least four I know personally, are probably doomed to die unpublished and unread. It's a painful reality to look at.
A few of these aforementioned writers were weaned on cheap, dime store trash literature. It shows in their writing---they deliver texts of gut-level simplicity, which, like the best works of the old hacks, betray sly and subtle depths. There is much to be gleaned from lowly bargain bin scribes.
Hack Writing---Christ Jesus. Gone are the days when a browser might score a cheap edition of Howard's Conan novels or a thirty-five cent Signet edition of an Ian Fleming James Bond thriller in all its violent, misogynistic glory. Gone are Edgar Rice Burroughs and Doc Savage the Man of Bronze. Gone is Zorro, fighting for freedom in a California that never existed. Gone is the day when a Jim Thompson could ply his sublime and bloody trade.
Gone, also, are the surprises---where H.P. Lovecraft could churn out such artful and mythic horror pulp that a generation of mystical dabblers would actually mistake it for occult fact; Where a Chester Himes could infuse raw, gritty detective stories with canyons of racial tension and urban rage. You'd be hard-pressed to find another Philip K. Dick, whose readable science fiction opened up into allegory, subversion and a new form of Gnosticism.
The writing hasn't necessarily elevated---in many cases it's regressed. But the prices of the books have gone sky high and the cover art is spellbinding in its obviousness. It's all about the package.
Dean Koontz is nobody's candidate for genius. His ham-fisted technique is pounded into a succession of thrillers that are perennial best sellers. He's not one to be stymied by hobgoblins like craftsmanship or finesse.
Big deal, anyway; He's laughing all the way to the bank.
The infotainment complex does not hedge bets on long shots or X-factors. Dean Koontz is the epitome of a safe bet. In the pantheon of modern horror he lacks the sense of history that a Peter Straub or a Ramsey Campbell might possess. He lacks the basic human decency of the Splatterpunk Crowd. He's even devoid of the sense of dramatic irony you might find reading some of Stephen King's better stuff. Not that it matters, of course—Koontz wouldn't know craft if he fell over it, but he does quite well without it.
My writerly mentors in college were all Hemingway Groupies. Whether you give a rat's puckered ass about Hemingway or not—whether you, as a writer (if you ARE a writer) choose to follow his lead, I reckon the Hemingway Model is a sound one. Scale it back to the bone. Take the terse, minimalist, journalistic road. Show, don't tell. I don't write like Hemingway, but I still think his style provides a useful foundation. Now and again I like to revisit the terrain, just as an experiment, just to make sure I'm still capable.
Koontz is no technician. If you're handing out marks using Hemingway as a guide, he's still in grade school. He's given to heavy-handed summarization, even in the realm of character development. When the time comes to show, not tell, just watch Koontz in action---he tells and tells and tells.
Like it matters. His books are fertile ground for bad movie adaptations and the cash register keeps on ringing.
Art, a truly useless term, is also a dead thing in the world of infotainment, and can easily be excised neatly from the product.
Is Koontz the bastard buttchild of Alistair MacLean and Jim Thompson? Does he carry the banner of the new pulp? Well...no.
The dime store hacks are, as previously mentioned, obsolete---Neanderthals dead and buried in the vast corporate tundra. Koontz and his ilk are the new model Cro Magnons---well-packaged, reasonably inoffensive sure bets who will twang your receptors, suck you in, spit you out and give you the sort of carnival ride you relish every time. It's a mediocre ride, but your stomach will churn as you plunge down the last hill and you'll laugh and pay to get on again. Koontz and his corporate pimps will cash your check and salute their take with a six pack of Coors (Beer of FascistsTM).
And you'll love it. Every second. Hell---even I read the bastard's books.
Copyright 2009 Autonomedia/ 2015 Molotov Editions
The wonderful folks at CORVUS REVIEW have just released their Fall issue, which includes my short story, “Boil Order”. Check 'em out here:
THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:
- KING CRIMSON-Lark's Tongues in Aspic
- KING CRIMSON-Discipline
- THESE IMMORTAL SOULS-Marry Me Maxi-Single
- BLACK SABBATH-Master of Reality
- MINUTEMEN-Paranoid Time EP
- LEFT OF THE DIAL Box Set